November 29, 2015

On the Job

Erik Matti, 2013
On the Job is a very well made Filipino crime thriller. It's a film that forces you follow two perspectives. On one hand you are following a mentor/protege dynamic involving a veteran assassin trying to teach a young guy the ropes. On the other hand you are following a career-focused clean cop that is trying to do what's right, despite the questionable ties to crime that his in-laws have. But fortunately it's not a simplistic good guys / bad guys film. Both sides are nuanced. It's a fruitful film that leaves you with quite a bit to remember. The production skills are evident within the first twenty minutes. One early big treat is an impressive long take. Daniel (Gerald Anderson) returns from his "outside work" to the grimy prison. The camera pans, capturing all of the various characters inside the prison. Recreational activities, laundry-doing in an outside nook. The attention to detail doesn't stop at the decorated jail. Your eyes will be fixed as the camera moves through the shanty villages of the Philippines. When you enter the claustrophobic abode of partner assassin Mario (Joel Torre), there are images of the tiny little home that are sure to be ingrained in your mind for some time. Makes you kind of wish you could spend more time just exploring the dirty, yet intriguing home.

On the Job is really a blend of a crime thriller with a prison drama. The exterior crime elements certainly take away from the sense of confinement and isolation of pure prison dramas. In a sense it's like a blend of Corsican prison film A Prophet and the Vincent Cassel-led Mesrine films. Everything is executed really well. You spend the duration of the film caught up in both sides of a captivating narrative, all set in a system full of corruption.

The Last Days

David & Alex Pastor, 2013
Just when you think that it's all been done before in the apocalyptic genre, The Last Days proves that you can still make a film with some originality. Set in Barcelona, the story focuses on a global epidemic that causes humans to become agoraphobic, where they cannot go outdoors without seizing up and immediately dying. This of course creates chaos, which turns into a quick collapse of civilization. While everyone is stuck inside, they become confined to the buildings that they are in. Supplies begin to run out, and in some areas there are just no supplies to begin with. What transpires is sort of a Mad Max stuck inside.

It's creative storytelling, the concept of a epidemic hitting the world and instead of attacking innocent humans at random - you actually have some sense of control over your own fate. The story largely focuses on character Marc (Quim Gutierrez), corporate computer programmer who is stuck at his office building and is desperately trying to reunite with girlfriend Julia (Marta Etura).

One impressive feat of the film is it decides to not just focus on the early moments of the virus but instead focuses on Marc's journey months after he has been stuck inside the office. Resources have basically run dry and the inhabitants have been working to mine their way to the subway system in an effort to travel without actually having to go outside. You see some flashbacks that give you some more insight into Marc's character. By the final act of the film, you are fully invested in Marc's mission to find Julia. One of the most extraordinary aspects of The Last Days is it doesn't just stop with a story about a guy trying to find his girl. It really makes some ambitious leaps with the story that make it an even more rewarding piece of work.


Eddie Mullins, 2013
Doomsdays is one of those films that focuses on a couple of characters that you really wouldn't want to spend a lot of time with in real life. These are people that have no regard for personal property. They have no moral barometer, no real sense of remorse for anything they've done or anything they will do. Instead, they drift through the Catskills. Home to home, day to day, drink to drink. They take what they need and they move on. But it doesn't just stop there. If they feel like smashing a window, or breaking what's probably valuable family heirlooms, they do that too.

Bruho (Leo Fitzpatrick) and Dirty Fred (Justin Rice) are just downright despicable human beings. Borderline sociopathic, surely nihilistic. Bruho hides behind an unrealistic earthy ideology and Dirty Fred is just kind of complacent. They make you want to double check that your own doors are locked, just to eliminate the possibility that anyone like them may show up at your door. Even though you are forced to spend the whole 90 minutes with them, there is something alluring about following them. There is an odd curiosity as to what the next house is going to offer them. They aren't just purely sadistic. Because they have some kind of code, it's not pure carnage. Fitzpatrick seems to always get cast as the dirtbag type, from his role as Telly in Kids or as junkie Johnny in The Wire. His Bruho character is surprisingly a little more approachable that former two characters. But still pretty venomous. But just like Reyna (Laura Campbell) and Jaidon (Brian Charles Johnson) become intrigued by the pair, you can't help but be intruiged by them as well.

November 27, 2015


Judd Apatow, 2015
Apatow's last two full feature films, This is 40 and Funny People, did not live up to how good Knocked Up was. This is probably because Apatow wasn't really a present force in Knocked Up, already living the life of a married guy with kids. There was a certain organized simplicity that Knocked Up had going for it. The latter two films felt like there was a lot of forced messages within them. As if Apatow had a lot to say and had to inject it into the meat of those two films. Not that he is not an interesting guy, he undoubtedly is. But maybe his married guy angst is better served on the stage in front of a crowd, and not in front of a screen. Maybe they should be two separate things. Okay, now back to his movie. Judd Apatow set out to prove two things with his latest comedic installment. One - that he is able to finally top his best work in Knocked Up. Two - that Judd has a lot of friends in Hollywood. Particularly a lot of comedian friends. Trainwreck, written by the super talented and super funny Amy Schumer, loads up on comedian cameos (Dave Attell, Jim Florentine, Bobby Kelly, Mike Birbiglia). But it doesn't stop with comedians. Unexpected roles by John Cena and Lebron James add some of biggest laugh out loud moments. The casting process must have been a lot of fun. The editing process was probably also a lot of fun. Shit, the whole movie was probably a blast to make.

Schumer is kind of the perfect woman to put in the role of the very sexually active fun-seeker who likes a few pops and isn't ready to settle down and get serious in life. Bill Hader is kind of the perfect guy to compliment that fun-seeker as the square sports medicine guy who hasn't had much luck in the dating world. Credit is really due to Schumer. She really puts herself out there. Very much like Cameron Diaz did in There's Something About Mary. Moments of self-deprecation. Embarrassing romantic moments.

So much of the film feels identifiable, fresh, fun and original. Solid laughs all around. Definitely one of the most genuinely funny comedies to come out in the past five years. The film has the signature Apatow theme of feeling a tad long; but it's forgivable because there are laughs to be had up until the final moments. Trainwreck has the honesty and edginess to call it this generations Annie Hall, or at least this generations Annie Hall as told by Amy Schumer. It breaks down the conventions of the modern romantic comedy. And just when you think it's going to take a turn down cliche Avenue, it jerks the wheel in the other direction. She's going places, that Amy Schumer.

November 22, 2015

Inside Out

Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen, 2015
Pixar Studios has become a trusted source of films that are going to grab the attention of young viewers but also appeal to adult audiences as well. Its no different for Inside Out, a visual feast for the eyes that is clearly an allegory for the growing pains of the tween years. It's a colorful film filled with invention. From the memory balls that roll through the infinite mind of main character Riley, to the personalized islands that are home to Riley's main personality traits. Imagination Land, or the Dream Productions area. The film has the god-like control center of The Truman Show with the kaleidoscopic visual elements of Wreck-it Ralph. You can draw similarities to the Toy Story films in the sense that the story focuses on unseen elements connected to a main character, looking out for them in a sense. Third parties that have a vested interest in a main character's well-being. And the Riley character has some uniqueness herself. Instead of being a chatty tween archetype glued to her cell phone, she is a goofy tom-boy type who is very into hockey. Refreshing character model.

It's interesting because you can easily simplify the plot of the film. You could say it's a movie about a girl who struggles to adapt when her family moves her from Minnesota to San Francisco. But because we are a witness to every thought and action that takes place, it creates a much more detailed story. Every single emotion is a character, a character with some true identity. So many memorable elements to take away from the film. It's a movie with some real heart, and some heartbreak to endure. Ebbs and flows. Another great Pixar film that will prove to be a timeless classic, ripe for multiple viewings.

Goodbye World

Denis Henry Hennelly, 2014
We are living in an age of numerous apocalyptic movies. Nuclear wars, zombie plagues, global pandemics, terrorist attacks. The list goes on. Seems like every year we are served a dozen or so of them and we are forced to weed through them to find one of quality. Goodbye World, is one of the ones of little quality. The film starts off interesting. An ambiguous text starts to circulate saying "Goodbye World", puzzling the recipients. As a group of old friends plan their arrival to friend James' (Adrian Grenier) remote mountain house, order is beginning to break down. The group of friends are reuniting after years of not seeing each other for various reasons. Their reunion just happens to coincide with the collapse of civilization. And coincidentally, James happens to be a doomsday-prepper type who happens to have everything they will need when shit hits the fan. How convenient! The fact that he has all of the supplies, solar power, medicine neutralizes the panic and for most of the film all we really have to indicate that things have really collapsed is some smoke way off in the distance. Oh, and the occasional invader such as a pair of soldiers aggressively trying to claim their place on the compound. 

It's a movie that would have certainly benefited from being much simpler. It could have been an effective limited storytelling piece in an enclosed setting. But the stakes would have needed to be higher. Instead of pure panic and main conflict points were marital troubles, which would seem so trivial in a time like this. There were also just way too many story threads in general. Business conflict between the men. An old couple that still has feelings for each other. A woman still dealing with political fallout from a sex scandal. An ex con lecturer who does college tours.

The movie would have been a great opportunity for Adrian Grenier to do something that he was never able to do during his many years on HBO's Entourage: prove that he is a viable actor. Unfortunately, he fails to do that here. There actually isn't really a memorable performance in the film. Goodbye World is an frustratingly confused film. Probably a movie that was didn't end up materializing the way it was intended to. Instead of keeping things simple, it fell into a web of unnecessary complications. It's a movie that also has some glaring flaws, like kids just standing there when someone is shot to their death or when there is a stranger screaming at a mother. One of the most irritating points in the film is when one of the main characters reveal themselves to be a an absolute computer aficionado. How convenient!

November 18, 2015

The Host

Joon Ho Bong, 2006
The Host, a movie with a very generic name, is one of several of the same title listed on IMDB. There is a short about a patient in a mental asylum. There is a 2013 full feature starring Saoirse Ronan about a mysterious force that steals people’s memories. But this Host is not any of those. This is the 2006 South Korean monster film written and directed by Joon Ho Bong (Memories of Murder, Mother, Snowpiercer). Clearly the Korean title didn't make the best transition to English. This particular monster movie ended up being the highest grossing South Korean film of all time after it was reported that 13 million tickets were sold.

The premise of the film is quite simple. A scientist is bullied into dumping massive amounts of formaldehyde down the laboratory drain, hence contaminating the city’s river-water. Not long after, the toxic chemicals create a mutated river monster that starts targeting city residents. The creature emerges from the water and descends upon a riverside park. After killing many residents it captures a food-truck worker’s daughter and disappears into the water. The man, not willing to give up on his daughter, attempts to rescue her. Of course the main dilemma of the story is the clock is ticking, and are they going to have enough time?

The film is clearly a parable for the cost of environmental destruction. But instead of just unleashing pure CGI destruction. Joon Ho Bong focuses more on the family dynamic. The family has quickly given up hope in their own government, who doesn’t take their claims seriously. They would rather just keep the family on lockdown in one of their quarantine zones. So they take matters into their own hands. It’s interesting visiting this film after already seen Joon Ho Bong’s later work in Snowpiercer. There are certainly similarities; snappy editing, impressive visual elements, clean CGI, government oppression, revolt against authority. There’s even some black comedy elements that were also seen in Snowpiercer. But The Host offers a more intimate look at a single family that is willing to put their differences aside to rescue their brother / son’s daughter. Despite the fact that this bloodthirsty creature can easily kill them, and despite the fact that the government agents are willing to do whatever they can to capture them, they focus on their one objective. Another example of a compelling us vs. the world / man vs. beast story. You care about the family, there is enough development that you really get to know them. You want them to save the daughter. She herself isn't just some crying, innocent little thing. She's resourceful, compassionate. She picks through the pockets of the poor souls who didn't survive the creature's grasp. She aids a fellow child also captured. She offers you enough of her character that you would probably join the family in their attempts to scour the city sewer in search of her.

November 2, 2015

Ain't Them Bodies Saints

David Lowery, 2013
On paper the idea of a southern rom-dram starring Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara is interesting. The two, both accomplished actors, have been part of some of the best films to come out within the past twenty years. Affleck himself has played the criminal on the run before, in the very much under-rated The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. He's certainly playing a cousin of his Robert Ford character, an elusive untrustworthy soft-speaking figure that has hints of innocence behind obvious youthful naivete. But there is a vast difference between Ain't them Bodies and Jesse James. Bodies is basically a game of cat and mouse with a ticking clock. Bob Muldoon (Affleck), after many attempts of escaping prison, has finally managed to escape and very predictably is planning reuniting with his love Ruth (Mara). Their early moments spent together on screen were the two of them participating in a very Bonnie & Clyde-like excursion. One that left one of their partners in crime dead and an officer shot. Pregnant Ruth is spared prosecution while Bob takes the fall and gets the book thrown at him. The people around Ruth figure that having the child and being separated from Bob will be a good opportunity for her to have a normal life that doesn't involve criminal acts. Standing in between the pairs fateful reunion is father figure / neighbor Skerritt (Keith Carradine) and local cop Patrick Wheeler (Ben Foster).

It's a story that doesn't feel all that gripping or even original for that matter. It feels like a dull whispery drama that could have been something better. The Bob character doesn't really feel like a character worth getting behind. Their love together never really feels like much more than a lot of young body rubbing that inadvertently created a little daughter. Mara, who probably provides the most compelling performance in the film, is not much more than a woman that is mired in indecision on whether or not to be the reformed mother or continue to like the bad boys. The dim lighting, the cold aluminum siding, the shadow-ridden barn that Bob hides in, are all failed attempts at creating any visual impressions. Bodies is a forgettable picture that doesn't hide it's admiration for Bonnie and Clyde but completely lacks the greatness of it.


Aaron Hann / Mario Miscione, 2015
There a handful of films (Buried, The Man from Earth, 12 Angry Men, Pontypool, Rear Window and a lot of Hitchcock's work for that matter) that take place in a single location. With a limited setting, you need to have a good script powering the narrative. Because you are going to be stuck with these characters for 90 minutes or so, they NEED to be interesting.

Circle takes place in a single room. A bunch of strangers awaken from an mysterious daze and find themselves placed upon red circles like human board game pieces. They realize quite quickly that they are part of an odd social experiment. When one of them steps off of the red circle that they stand on, they die. Not long after they realize that it's not the only way to die in the circle room. Seemingly at random, the ominous eye at the center of the room zaps an innocent victim. But then they determine it's not random. Not only is it not random, they are actually in control of who gets exterminated. What transpires is a dark social experiment where everyone in the room makes a stand for their life, and also has to play executioner to the people standing around them. What starts off as superficial judging turns into moral examinations. The numbers dwindle down and the experiment turns into pure Survivor-esque strategy. It's interesting that you really don't spend a whole lot of time with the poor people in the room. But because of their dilemma, you are forced to learn a lot about them rapidly. Like they are making a stand for their lives, and because of that they reveal themselves much faster than they would over a cup of coffee where they have all of the time in the world. The end result is a really inventive and unique movie, one that feels like an indie hybrid of Saw, the aforementioned 12 Angry Men and the not-often-mentioned Cube.